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Monday, April 19, 1999 Published at 21:45 GMT 22:45 UK

UK Politics

Government hardens Kosovo policy

Refugees will need international protection

By Political Correspondent Nick Assinder

The government has further toughened its stand against Slobodan Milosevic by insisting he should never again be allowed a say in the administration of Kosovo.

Kosovo: Special Report
In the second full Commons debate on the conflict, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said once Nato had driven Serb forces from the province it would have to be administered by international bodies including the UN and the EU.

But, in a debate which saw some severe criticisms of the Nato action and the killing of civilians, Mr Cook was quizzed over whether the new policy had been agreed by the allies.

Once again, he slapped down the critics on all sides, declaring Europe was witnessing the greatest forced deportations since Stalin or Hitler.

If the government had stood by and watched, it would have been complicit in the same evils Nato had been created to end after the Second World War, he said.

[ image: Milosevic: No future role in Kosovo]
Milosevic: No future role in Kosovo
The plan for international administration of Kosovo was being "closely discussed" with the allies but it had already found widespread support, he insisted.

He also confirmed such an administration would have to be backed by a "credible military presence" once again raising questions about committing ground troops to the region.

Avoid casualties

Mr Cook vigorously defended the Nato action against a barrage of attacks, claiming the air campaign was working to massively reduce President Milosevic's ability to take action.

BBC Political Editor Robin Oakley: "MPs are voicing concerns over the clarity of Nato aims"
And he said that, while Nato had tried hard to avoid civilian casualties, it was not possible to guarantee there would not be such deaths.

Referring to recent cases of Nato bombing a civilian train and a refugee convoy, he said: "if there has been a misjudgement, then we deeply regret it."

But the debate saw MPs from all sides lining up to either question elements of the Nato action or attack the entire enterprise.

Shadow foreign secretary Michael Howard continued to offer the opposition's support for the military action, but said it had clearly failed to achieve its original aim of preventing a humanitarian disaster.

It was now time for the government to bring some clarity to its thinking about how the action should proceed and exactly what its aims were, he said.

Growing concern

But it was clear there were growing concerns amongst MPs with a number of Labour backbenchers, led by veteran left-winger Tony Benn, and former Tory defence minister Alan Clark leading the assault.

Mr Benn attacked the government for again refusing to allow a vote on the issue and treating the debate like a press conference.

Mr Clark turned his fire on the prime minister, claiming he was "making things up as he goes along."

While they agreed Nato should never have become involved in the conflict, other MPs seized on the admission of civilian deaths to condemn the action.

Others claimed the action had not only worsened the humanitarian disaster but also strengthened Slobodan Milosevic's position in Belgrade.

There was a far grimmer atmosphere over the debate than in previous Commons exchanges and it is clear the government is now facing a task in showing it has a firm grip on the situation.

Towards the debate's close an attempt led by backbench Labour MPs opposed to Nato's campaign in Kosovo to force a vote on the government's policy in the region failed.

Their attempt at passing a closure motion only received the backing of 11 MPs, falling well short of the 40 needed.

No vote has taken place so far in any of the Commons debates on the crisis.

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